As big steps go, Tuesday’s win was huge.
Having talked about hard work and potential through the long high school hoop season, New Westminster Hyacks senior boys coach Ted Cusick was longing to see it come together in a sustained way.
In the Burnaby-New West league semifinal, he got that and more.
New West advanced to the league final, nudging defending league champion Byrne Creek 89-84 in a close battle that tested the team’s depth and determination.
“We’ll take it. Everybody did their part,” remarked Cusick. “We didn’t rely upon one guy to do all the scoring or defending.”
Up by five after 10 minutes and down 43-39 at halftime, the Hyacks caught fire and built up a 10-point lead before watching the Bulldogs strike back. In the fourth quarter, Byrne nudged ahead 76-75 before New West wrestled away the momentum.
Captain Mo Al-Ghreibawi peeled off four straight free throws to cap the comeback.
“They were pumped, and I was relieved,” said Cusick of the win. “It’s taken a while, but finally everything came together.”
Luke Burton and Al-Ghreibawi set the tone with 23 points each, while Ethan Rivas was a dominating force on the boards, winning 20 of them and adding 16 points. The team went eight-for-26 from the three-point line, showing the kind of form that is necessary to compete with the likes of Burnaby South – New West’s next opponent.
“New West played great,” noted Byrne Creek coach Bal Dhillon. “We shot the ball well, but they rebounded very well. ... We have some things to work on.”
They began the playoffs by defeating the Cariboo Hill Chargers 89-62. AJ Chol and Al-Ghreibawi netted 11 points apiece, while Simon Cruz knocked down 10 in support.
It came on the heels of a positive run at the Robert Bateman Timberwolves Classic on the weekend, where they edged Pitt Meadows 76-74 on a shot with two seconds remaining in the opening match.
Rivas led all shooters with 27 points and nine rebounds, while Cho contributed 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Although they were blasted 86-56 by Sir Charles Tupper, the eventual tourney champs, in the second game, the Hyacks rebounded to end on a high note, handling the host Bateman squad 93-67. Luke Barton made it rain with 30 points, while Rivas chipped in with 20 and 10 boards.
New West now faces Burnaby South at South on Monday for the league title.
* EDITOR'S CORRECTION: In the story 'Hyacks aim to get hot' in Jan. 31 edition, we erroneously put up some wrong numbers; New West hit only 3-of-31 three-pointers, not free throws.